I Take My Hat Off To You as a Composer; I Put Back Ten Hats as a Man

Arturo Toscanini? Georges Clemenceau? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend the prominent conductor Arturo Toscanini expressed disrespect for the famous composer Richard Strauss during an incident in the 1930s. To understand this incident it is helpful to know that removing one’s hat was a gesture of respect in the European culture shared by the two men. Here are two versions of the insult:

1) For Strauss the composer, I take my hat off. For Strauss the man, I put it on again.

2) Strauss, as a musician I take my hat off to you; as a man I put on twelve hats.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this insult schema located by QI appeared many years earlier in 1918. Georges Clemenceau who was the Prime Minister of France reportedly employed the hat remark while discussing the behavior of a country during World War 1. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He was receiving a delegation from Rumania, and, after a short conversation, was asked by one of the delegates to send a message to the Rumanians who had given such gallant support to the Allies before national intrigue played them false. Then up rose Clemenceau and uttered the following tigerish sentiment: “I rise in the presence of your delegation; I take my hat off to the Rumanian people; I put it on again in the face of the Rumanian government.” Short, sweet, typically French in its incisive, epigrammatic quality.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.




In 1934 Stefan Zweig who was the son-in-law of Richard Strauss wrote a letter to the composer about a current newspaper story. Zweig dismissed the tale in the paper which appeared to be about the insult delivered by Toscanini: 2

Today just a bit of information. A foreign newspaper tells a stupid story about Toscanini having made sarcastic and derogatory comments about you at a party held in my honor here in London. How stupidly this episode is invented (it appeared under the headline “Toscanini’s hat shop”), is evident by the fact that I never saw Toscanini in London; he has not been here for a year and, of course, he never made a comment like that.

According to the 1934 newspaper version, Toscanini’s barb was not spoken directly to Strauss. Unfortunately, Zweig did not record the supposed statement. The editorial note accompanying the letter when it was published decades later in 1977 asserted that Zweig was referring to the well-known hat remark. QI has not yet located this early newspaper account. Zweig continued his letter with a comment labeling the story an “idiotic fabrication”:

Now, I do not want you to be annoyed about Toscanini, if you hear about this idiotic fabrication; as far as I know he never made such a silly joke, certainly not in my presence, since he knows my devotion to you.

In 1947 “The Christian Science Monitor” of Boston, Massachusetts printed an instance of the anecdote: 3

Strauss, even his best friends agree, never showed any courage to oppose the Nazis, and accepted the benefits they offered him. Perhaps Conductor Arturo Toscanini’s remark best sums up opinion here today: “I take my hat off to the composer Strauss, but for Strauss the man I would press it down twice as hard.”

In 1948 “Time” magazine published a cover story about Toscanini that included a version of the anecdote in which the conductor delivered the rebuke directly to Strauss: 4

Years ago, after Richard Strauss had asked him to conduct the first performance of his Salome, then gave it to another conductor, Toscanini went all the way from Milan to Vienna to tell him, “Strauss, as a musician I take my hat off to you; as a man [Toscanini here went through a furious pantomime of a man clomping on hats repeatedly] I put on twelve hats.”

The 1951 biography “The Maestro: The Life of Arturo Toscanini” by Howard Taubman included yet another version of the remark: 5

To be a good musician, he believes, is also to be a good man. He was revolted by Richard Strauss’s worldly side, and in a stormy encounter he said to the composer, “I take my hat off to you as a composer,” and with a disgusted gesture added “I put back ten hats as a man.” Though Toscanini is not a churchgoer, his ethical precepts are high and firm.

In 1967 “The Washington Post” reviewed the biography “Richard Strauss: The Life of Non-Hero”, and the reviewer shared the following instance of the tale: 6

After reading the documents on both sides of the matter of Strauss and the Nazis, and remembering that in 1948 he was cleared of all charges of active collaboration, perhaps the incident most worth remembering is that which occurred when the composer called on Arturo Toscanini in the conductor’s dressing room in Milan. “For Strauss the composer, I take my hat off,” Toscanini said to his visitor. “For Strauss the man, I put it on again.”

In 1975 the book “Toscanini” by George R. Marek included the following, but the accompanying footnote cast doubt on the tale: 7

When Toscanini met Strauss later, he said, “For Strauss the composer I take my hat off,” and proceeded to do so; “for Strauss the man I put it on again,” and proceeded to clamp his hat back on his head.*

* The truth of the episode is not quite certain.

In conclusion, this article presents a snapshot of current research. The evidence for the anecdote is weak and contradictory. There are many different phrasings of the barb. In addition, the time, location, and circumstance are uncertain. The tale might be a transformed version of the Georges Clemenceau anecdote created by a newspaper humorist.

Image Notes: Portrait of Richard Strauss by Max Liebermann circa 1918. Picture of hats from Hans at Pixabay. Picture of Arturo Toscanini circa 1900. Images of Strauss and Toscanini accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped, retouched, and resized.

(Great thanks to Terry Teachout of “The Wall Street Journal” and J Hougen whose twitter exchange and inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to Kam-Yung Soh who pointed out that a clarification about hat-wearing etiquette would be helpful for international visitors to the website.)

Notes:

  1. 1918 December 21, The New Appeal (Appeal to Reason), A Great Difference, Quote Page 3, Column 6, Girard, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1977, A Confidential Matter: The Letters of Richard Strauss and Stefan Zweig, 1931-1935, Translated from the German by Max Knight, Letter Date: October 23, 1934, From Location: Portland Place, London, Sender: Stefan Zweig, Recipient: Richard Strauss, Quote Page 62, Footnote on Page 116, University of California Press, Berkeley, California. (Verified with hardcopy)
  3. 1947 January 31, The Christian Science Monitor, Von Papen, Freed by Allies, Fights Grimly in New Trial by J. Emlyn Williams (Central European Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor), Quote Page 13, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  4. 1948 April 26, Time, Music: The Perfectionist (Cover Story), Start Page 54, Quote Page 60, Column 3, Time Inc., New York. (Verified with microfilm)
  5. 1951 Copyright, The Maestro: The Life of Arturo Toscanini by Howard Taubman, Chapter 26: Away from Music, Quote Page 297, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  6. 1967 April 16, The Washington Post, ‘Life of Non-Hero’ Is a Superb Study of Richard Strauss by Paul Hume (Washington Post Staff Writer), (Book Review of “Richard Strauss: The Life of Non-Hero” by George Marek), Quote Page L9, Column 4 and 5, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  7. 1975, Toscanini by George R. Marek, Quote Page 76, Atheneum, New York. (Verified with scans)